Theme B: Historical Demography

In the past decades research in the field of historical demography and the history of population has made rapid progress, especially in the countries with long series of parish registers. This development owes largely to the triumph of the family reconstitution method developed by Louis Henry and the results have proven very useful for understanding the demographic, economic, social, ethnic, cultural and political history of nations.

In case of Estonia, research in historical demography is considered particularly important for several reasons. Firstly, Estonia posses relatively rich data sources on historical population such as parish registers, land and soul revisions, civil rolls etc going back to the 17th century, and partly event to 13th century. Secondly, Estonia lies on the border of two different zones of population development, dating back to the emergence of European marriage pattern. In this division, Estonia forms the Easternmost territory on the Western side of the Haijnal line, further the same division is reflected in large differences in the timing of demographic transition between Estonia and its neigbouring regions. And last but not least, research in historical demography has a long-established record with internationally acknowledged results.

Integrated with core demographic research and supporting the long-term perspective on different population processes, the outcome of research has relevance also in the contemporary context. In the following, research under the theme has been divided between two subthemes:

  • historical population development
  • analysis of historical data sources on population

2.1. Historical population development

2.1.1. Background

Research in historical demography took start in Estonia in the 1920-1930s, resulting in the first estimates of the population of Estonia, population losses during the plague epidemics in 1710-1711 and famine in 1695-1697.

After a long break the study of the history of the population revived in the end of the 1960s. In the following period general overviews of the population growth in the XVIII and XVIII century were published and the development of urban population 1712-1940 was analysed. The methods of family reconstitution and data linking according to Estonian name system were worked out and applied to three parishes (Rõuge, Karuse, Otepää) in the XVII and XVIII century. Research was concentrated mainly in the Institute of History and Historical Faculty of the Tartu University, and guided by the Commision for the Historical Demography.

In the 1990s, new developments have effected research in historical demography in Estonia. The emergence of research in the field of core demography allowed to established closer methodological links and contacts between with bordering disciplines, including historical demography. Moreover, the research in historical demography became institutionally concentrated at the Institute. On the other hand, closer cooperation with archives was started, involving the development of databases for the needs of historical demography.

Research under the subtheme during the reporting period has consisted of research activities in three main direction. Firstly, the systematisation and generalisation of the results of earlier studies in the field of population history, covering essential periods periods in the history of Estonian population. Secondly, under the subtheme has analyses based on newly available and unique data sources have been undertaken, applying the case-study approach and modern techniques of analysis. And thirdly, efforts to harmonise the concepts and definintions between historical case-studies and "contemporary" demography have been undertaken.

As main results of the referred research activities, three monographs have been published under reporting period. Heldur Palli published two monographs which generalise the development of the population of Estonia until the year 1800. Veiko Berendsen and Margus Maiste published a monograph presenting a detailed analysis of the population of Tartu in the late XIX century, based on unique collection of the 1897 census lists and corresponding set of computerised microdata. No similar study is known for the historical censuses on territory of former Russian Empire, research has been acknowledged by national award in historical literature (2001).

2.1.2. Subtheme frameworks The principal project framework of the subtheme has been the research project History of Estonian Population, supported by Estonian Science Foundation. Additionally, research under subtheme has received support from Estonian Population Data Harmonisation Programme and target funding scheme. The principal cooperation frameworks during reporting period have included coordinated activities with Institute of History, history department at Tartu University and National Archives. Aside access to sources, cooperation with National Archives is particularly acknowledged for providing facilities for the computerisation of the 1897 census data. Research and activities under the subtheme have relied on various historical databases, including family reconstituted parish register data and computerised microdata from the 1897 census. New knowledge generated under the subtheme have provided a background for the analyses on contemporary development on Estonian population. During the reporting period, the contribution of historical population studies has been particularly important for the comparative study on long-term development on national minorities and immigrant populations in Europe, coordinated by European Population Committee, Council of Europe (PO-S-MIN/PO-S-MIG). Among others, research results have been presented in EAPS general conference in the Hague and Baltic Demographic Symposium.

2.1.3. Major results

The major research results under subtheme can be summarised in the following:

  • population size, age structure, ethnic and social composition from XVII until to XVIII centuries, partly from XIII century have been analysed in the context of political development of the country, in comparative perspective with neighbouring countries / nations [8; 12]
  • the dynamics of the natural increase of the population at the end of the XVII century- beginning of the XVIIII century has been analysed, with particular emphasis on demographic crises and its implications [8; 12]
  • detailed survey of the growth of the population 1712-1799 following the plague epidemic has been prepared; the results indicate particularly rapid population growth and high proportion of children (0-14 years) in the population of Estonia throughout the century [8; 12]
  • The reproduction of population, household size and structure in the XVII and in the XVIII century has been studied, based on family reconstitution studies of three parishes (Otepää, Karuse and Rõuge) [8; 12]
  • The 1897 census methodology, procedures and role in the context of statistical system is analysed, based on a survey of relevant publications from the second half of the XIX century [3]
  • for the first time, a critical evaluation of the 1897 censuses definitions is given applying microdata analysis and comparison to official tabulations published in 1905; the result point to several methodological deficiencies of the 1897 census [3; 7]
  • The settlement history of Tartu in the period before the 1897 census and the spatial structure of the city at the time of the census has been studied, applying a series of computerised maps connecting the historical and modern structures by means of GIS [3]
  • The composition of the population of Tartu in 1897 has been analysed by main socio-demographic characterictics, including ethnicity (language), religion, educational attainment, economic activity and occupational; major differences have been found Lutheran and Orthodox Estonians, Orthodox Russians, Oldbelievers, Germans, Catholics and Jews [3]
  • The birthplace of the inhabitants of Tartu has been studied by birth cohorts to cast light on the patterns of urbanisation and development of settlement system in the late XIX century; due to significant impact of university in Tartu, the results can be only partially generalised to other cities of Estonia [2; 3]
  • The spatial concentration of population groups by ethnic (confessional-linguistic) and socio-economic characteristics has been studied; the results reveal the patterns of quite strong residential segregation in Tartu [2; 3]

Followingly, a selection of quantitative estimates/results under the subtheme is presented:

  • The population of Estonia is estimated 150000-200000 in 1200, 250000-300000 in 1550, 350000-400000 in 1695, 150000-170000 in 1712, 485000 in 1782 and 958000 in 1897 [1; 4; 8; 12]
  • The percentage of children (0-14 years) was 43.1 per cent in 1731-1732 and 32.0 per cent in 1897. More detailed data is also available for selected parishes [1; 10; 12]
  • The Estonians made up in 1782 about 90 per cent of the population. In 1881 the ethnic structure was following: Estonians 89.9 per cent, Germans 5.3 per cent, Russians 3.3 per cent and Swedes 0.6 per cent [1; 12]
  • The crude birth rate in 1690-1694 and in 1715-1799 was about 40 per thousand, crude marriage rate 8 per thousand and crude death rate 25-30 per thousand [8; 12; 19]
  • The seasonality of marriages among rural population was very sharply concentrated in November, December and January, in these three months two thirds or even three fourths of all marriages were concluded [8; 12; 19]
  • The mean age at first marriage in the XVIII century was for females 23-24 years and 25-26 years for males in Estonia [8]
  • Age-specific marital birth rate in Otepää parish 1716-1799 was 440 per thousand, in aggregate age group 30-39 370 per thousand, in Karuse parish 410 per thousand and 380 per thousand respectively [8]
  • Life expectancy at birth, combined for males and females, was in 1765-1784 36-37 years and 43 years in 1897 [1; 8; 10]
  • In three parishes under study average household size ranged between 6-9 in XVIII century. In North Estonia, extended family households about 30 per cent of the number of households. In South Estonia, the percentage of extended family households was higher (40-50 per cent) [6; 11]

2.2. Analysis of historical data sources on population

2.2.1. Background

In case of Estonia, written sources on population date back to XIII century, starting with the famous Liber Census Daniae. These sources are written in Latin, German, Russian, Swedish and Polish and we may find them in the archives of Estonia, Sweden, Russia and Poland.

From the second half of the XVII century the first parish registers in rural parishes of Estonia appear. Starting from 1686, all parishes were obliged to introduce registers on baptisms, burials and marriages, based on the ecclesiastical law of Swedish king Karl XI. Although part of early registers were destroyed during the Northern War (1700-1721), 39 parish registers from the XVII century have survived till our days, for the period 1712-1799 registers from 89 parishes in the archives and from 1834 registers are available for all parishes. It is important to note, however, that differently from Sweden and Finland, no vital statistics was compiled on its basis until the second half of the XIX century.

Another major source is land- and soulrevisions. Landrevisions from the XVI and XVII centuries and description books from period 1680-1710 include information mostly on the number of households. From 1712 start the series of landrevisions where the number of inhabitants of peasants' households (divided by sex and children-adults) is recorded. In the series of soul revisions 1782-1858 all persons, excluding some privileged strata, were recorded by name and age.

Yet another source - books about persons - something like status animarum has survived in XVIII century in some parishes, from 1834 onwards in nearly all parishes. In these books the inhabitants of the parish are recorded household by household and family by family. The first census, covering the whole country took place in 1881, preceded by local censuses of urban populatin in 1867 and 1871, marking the modern era in population data collection in Estonia.

As these sources differ in origin, content and structure, their application requires special efforts. The second subtheme unites source-critical and source-analytical research work to understand the methodological background and archival history of the sources, the possibilities to establish links between the sources of different provenance etc. The main objective of research under the subtheme is to transform the historical records into data which can be analysed by the methods of quantitative and qualitative analysis developed and/or applied in historical demography, including the techniques of family reconstitution. Also are the development, harmonisation and interpretation of metadata of sources relevant for historical demography have been included under subtheme.

During the reporting period, research under the subtheme has been conducted in four main directions: (1) development of finding aids and references to historical population data sources preserved in different archives, (2) record-linkage between population data sources of different type and origin, (3) record-linkage between population data and geo-spatial records and (4) development of integrated databases on historical populations and the application of family reconstitution method.

2.2.2. Subtheme frameworks The principal project frameworks include three projects supported by Estonian Science Foundation, Open Estonia Foundation and Governmental Commission for Population and Social Statistics. Methodologically and technically, all the referred projects were closely integrated. The interdisciplinary nature of the subtheme implied the participation of historians, demographers, geographers and archivists. Partners cooperating under subtheme have come from history and geography departments of Tartu University, National Archives, Tallinn City Archives etc. Research and activities under the subtheme have generated a computerised data archive, including individual records for more than 100 thousand persons in the period 1700-1900; the data archive is structured in form of relational database; additionally aggregate tables for the same period, published as well as unpublished have been computerised, including the set of tabulations from the 1881 and 1897 censuses, statistical reviews from the second half of the XIX century etc. Compiled descriptions of population sources (metadata) are available and accessible in the National Archives. The results of research and activities under the subtheme have been applied for curricula development at history department of Tartu University, supported by grants from university and Open Estonian Foundation. In this framework, programme and facilities were developed for seminars to give the students the overview of and experience of working with historical population sources. The results have been presented in several workshops, for international audience by Robert Schweizer [Datenbanken über Deutschbalten aus der PRPD-Gruppe an der Universität Tartu. Der Finnische Meerbusen als Brennpunkt. Wandern und Wirken deutschsprachigen Menschen in europäischen Nord-Osten. Helsinki, 1998] as well as in and two exhibitions in the National Archives / City Archive of Tallinn. Most of the sources addressed under the subtheme have been brought into scholarly circulation for the first time.

2.2.3. Major results

The major research results under subtheme can be summarised in the following:

  • finding aids for the following archives has been developed: the archives of local communities in the XIX century; the archives of the Estonian Lutheran Church, and the archives of the Tartu City Council in the XVII-XX centuries. The developed finding aids cover about half of the data sources on historical population in Estonia [15; 19]
  • the methodology for linking the population data from various ecclesiastical and civil sources for the XVIII and XIX centuries has been developed, and on that basis, family reconstitution for Kolga-Jaani parish has been accomplished
  • source-critical analysis on the largest collection of individual census lists from the 1897 census preserved in Estonian Archives (totalling over 46 thousand lists) has been accomplished, providing a basis for analyses and monograph discussed under the previous subtheme [4]
  • source-critical analysis of civil sources on population from the end of XIX century, including the comparison of the 1897 census lists and civil rolls on Jõgeva parish, the analysis of discrepancies between sources
  • the methodology for assembling and linking the records based on the genealogical collections, parish registers, civil lists of the German-Baltic nobility has been developed, covering the period from XIII to the beginning of XX century [18]
  • digital database and relevant procedures for storage, editing and computerised analysis of historical opulation records has been developed, using the SQL software standards
  • computer applications for mapping and analysis of historical population data been developed, based on 2.5-dimensional GIS [4]
  • the development of computer-assisted methods of family reconstitution, including approriate software applications, based on SQL standard; the development is in progress

2.3. Publications

Publications 1996-2003

1.Palli H (2003). Traditional reproduction of the population in Estonia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Tallinn. 2004.RU. Series D ; No 4 ISBN 9985949536
2.Palli H (2000). The Population of Estonia during the Periods of National Awakening and Russification. Time of Change in the Baltic Countries. Stockholm, pp.79-96.
3.Berendsen V, Maiste M (1999). Minorities and Family Structures in a Late 19th Century Baltic City: the Case of Tartu. Paper presented to the European Population Conference. The Hague, EAPS. 32p.
4.Berendsen V, Maiste M (1999). Esimene ülevenemaaline rahvaloendus Tartus 28. jaanuaril 1897. Tartu, Eesti Ajalooarhiiv. 494lk.
5.Maiste M (1988). Rahvaarv ja selle dünaamika 1881-1934. RU, Sari B, No.2. Tallinn, EKDK. 23lk.
6.Berendsen V, Maiste M (1997). The Problem of Definitions. A Case of Census in Tartu 1897. Paper presented to the International Conference Demographic Developments in Baltic Countries. Tallinn. 32p.
7.Palli H (1997). Eesti rahvastiku ajalugu 1712-1799. Academia, No 7. Tallinn. 151lk.
8.Palli H (1997). Parish Registers and Revisions in Estonia in the 17th-19th Centuries. Katus K, Stankuniene V, Vikat A (Eds). Demographic Development in Baltic Countries. Special issue of Revue Baltique, vol.10. Vilnius, pp.7-18.
9.Palli H (1997). Jooni Eesti rahvastiku demograafilise käitumise muutumisest. Acta Historica Tallinniensia, No.1, lk.78-92.
10.Palli H (1997). Perhe ja suku. Viron perinnekulttuuri. Helsinki, pp.255-264.
11.Palli H (1996). Eesti rahvastiku ajalugu aastani 1712. Academia, No.6. Tallinn. 134 lk.

Publications 1991-1995

12.Berendsen V (1995). Rahvusvahelised suhted 1815-1871, Rahvusvahelised suhted 1871-1900. Maailma ajalugu 1850 -1900. Tallinn, lk.122-130; 189-196.
13.Palli H (1995). Eesti rahvastiku ajaloo allikad. Sources for the History of the Population of Estonia. 1712-1940. Tallinn. 98lk.
14.Palli H (1995). Miks eestlased jäid püsima (ajaloolise demograafia vaatenurgast). Keel ja Kirjandus, No.7, lk.475-483.
15.Berendsen V (1994). Eesti ajaloo periodiseerimisest maailma ajaloo taustal. Uuseagne, modernne, kapitalistlik. Looming, No.11, lk.1531-1552.
16.Berendsen V, Maiste M, Rand J, Vesterblom, J (1994). Prosopograafiline andmebaas: Balti aadli register ja selle liidesed Bergi suguvõsa näitel. Paper presented to the International Conference on History and Historian. Tartu. 77p.
17.Maiste M (1994). Vallavalitsuste fondides asuvad isikumaterjalid. Tartu, Eesti Ajalooarhiiv. (Käsikiri). 59lk.
18.Palli H (1993). The Population of Estonia in the Last Decades of the Swedish Period. Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis. Studia Baltica Stockholmiensia, No.11, pp.195-208.

Electronic databases

  1. The database of German-Baltic Nobility. Period XIII-XX Century
  2. The Kolga-Jaani parish personal database. Period 1720-1900
  3. The Database of the population of Tartu. Period 1700-1900, including the 1897 census database
  4. The electronical collection of the metadata for the population sources of the Estonia Evangelical Lutherian Church